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Maitland Conservation warns of imminent bluff failure on Lake Huron shores

·5 min read

HURON COUNTY – Maitland Conservation continues to warn residents along the shores of Lake Huron that ongoing erosion along the watershed is causing parts of the bluffs to break away and slide off into the lake.

Shannon Millar, a shoreline technician with Maitland Conservation, provided updated photos and repeated her warning in a public webinar on Sept. 8, encouraging residents along the bluffs to remain vigilant and immediately report any abnormalities on the land to Maitland Conservation.

Millar has made several presentations over the last few years and continues to keep residents updated on the progress of the erosion, which she says is inevitable.

“It’s not if it will happen,” she repeated in her latest report, “it’s when.”

Millar told Midwestern Newspapers in an email that “the timing, size and type of failure are very difficult to predict but we do know that when erosion happens at the bottom of the bluff (toe erosion) a corresponding failure will inevitably occur at the top of the bluff. Any area that has experienced recent toe erosion is within an impending failure zone.”

She added, “Some areas in Maitland Conservation’s jurisdiction that have seen toe erosion and have buildings close to the edge of the bluff are, a section about two to five kilometres south of Goderich, an area about two kilometres north of Goderich, and a section approximately 11 kilometres north of Port Albert.”

Millar warned landowners who have property along a tall bluff that they should be aware of the ridge’s top and bottom.

“If there has been toe erosion along their property, we recommend they reach out to Maitland Conservation to discuss the risk,” she said.

She also encouraged landowners to be aware of tension cracks that sometimes appear on the top of the bluffs.

“These cracks run parallel to the shoreline and are a sign that a failure will happen in that area. Tension cracks are not always visible before a failure, but if you do see them, call us if a structure is nearby and make neighbors aware of the risk.”

Huron County’s Coastal Centre maintains a website dedicated to protecting and restoring Lake Huron’s coastal environment and supporting a healthy coastal ecosystem through education, restoration, and research projects.

The centre describes bluffs and gullies as “steep vertical exposures comprised of clay, sand, shale, bedrock, limestone, or any combination of these. These areas are prone to erosion due to their direct interaction with changing lake levels.

“Bluffs and gullies are a beautiful and important part of our ecosystems but they can cause concern for cottagers and municipalities. Our Coastal Science and Stewardship advisors have the expertise and considerable experience providing help and advice. Additionally, we have produced a number of bluff management guides and materials.”

The Coastal Centre said in a publication about coastal erosion, “Lake Huron’s bluffs are composed of glacial till (that’s the clay, silt and sand material left behind by glaciers). As the base of the bluff is eroded by waves, it causes the slope to become unstable, and in certain situations, this over-steepening of the bluffs can lead to massive slope failures, known as slumps.”

The publication went on to say that this natural process contributes to the vast swaths of pristine beaches like Sauble Beach and Port Elgin.

“Erosion is a natural process that is important to enable other critical coastal processes to take place. Our beach and dune systems rely on bluff erosion and shore processes to exist. Our beaches and dunes, in turn, protect the shoreline from storm waves and erosion,” the centre’s publication said.

Heidi and Gord Grant are landowners near the most recent bluff failure, which happened in July just west of the Goderich Airport.

The Grants invited Midwestern Newspapers to tour the property and witness the powerful destruction that saw 10 metres of land and trees that slid silently into the lake this summer.

Heidi said that their home and the several other cottages along this particular area are well behind what she called the “100-year fault line.” This generation of owners is relatively safe from losing their structures to erosion, she said.

She said some newer landowners are not particularly concerned; she feels they have not done enough research.

Heidi described that one of the newer landowners had placed cement blocks on the top of the bluff to try to stop the failure from happening, other landowners want to try to create some barrier system at the bottom of the bluffs, which would only cause the eroded material to shift to neighbouring properties, thus making it their neighbour’s problem.

Landowners are responsible for the financing of any clean-up necessary.

“The shoreline is dynamic, and change is the rule. We’ve been given the notion that erosion is a negative thing,” the Coastal Centre website said. “Taken in the context of the Lake Huron ecosystem, erosion is actually beneficial. Often, the best approach when faced with extensive bluff erosion is to move back the cottage, if possible, and let it happen. Often, when dealing with one of the Great Lakes, you have no other choice.”

Maitland Conservation provided the following statement along with a recording of the recent webinar, which can be viewed at https://www.mvca.on.ca/webinar-on-imminent-bluff-failures-and-bluff-safety/.

“Although the level of Lake Huron has dropped in recent weeks, the risk of bluff failure remains very high. The high-water levels over the past two years have caused toe erosion (bottom of the bluff) in some areas that will cause top of bluff failures in the future. Landowners who live at the top of an eroded bluff should be aware of the risk for loss of life and property (at both the top and bottom of the bluff).”

Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times

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